The so-called Ring of Five spies – Philby, Burgess, Blunt, Maclean and Cairncross, young men at Cambridge recruited in the 1930s by the Russian intelligence service to penetrate the British bureaucracy – have been so much written about that it is with a heavy heart that one picks up yet another book about them. It is, after all, over 80 years since they were recruited by the NKVD, as the Cold War KGB was then styled, and about 70 since they ceased spying. For how much longer will they feature almost as contemporary news? Will they make it past their own centenary?
Probably not, partly because such subjects have a natural half-life and partly because MI5 is gradually releasing its files of the period. Once their contents are known there will be nothing else to say. Most of it is known already, of course, although because MI6 does not release its files some writers will continue to speculate that the ‘real’ story is still withheld. Happily, that does not apply to Roland Philipps whose A Spy Named Orphan, The Enigma of Donald Maclean is a thoroughly researched account which makes sensible use of all available material and largely eschews speculation.